Dems: McCain 'Confused' on Iraq Policy

This is a rush transcript from "America's Election HQ," June 11, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

MEGYN KELLY, CO-HOST: Here with us now is McCain surrogate and former secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge.

Good evening, sir.

TOM RIDGE, FORMER DHS SECRETARY: Good evening. It's nice to join you.

KELLY: Thanks for being here with us. All right. Let me ask you about this, because this has led to comments from DNC Chair Howard Dean, Nancy Pelosi.

RIDGE: I'm shocked.

Video: Watch Megyn's interview with Tom Ridge

KELLY: Obama's foreign security advisor, Susan Rice, calling McCain, I want to get it right, confused. Senator Kerry calling him confused, saying, "This demonstrates a striking lack of appreciation of the burden Iraq is putting on our military." Is that fair?

RIDGE: It's totally out of context, totally unfair, but in the existing political climate, probably predictable. There is no other presidential candidate that has a personal experience in terms of understanding, appreciating, and experiencing the burden on military families. John McCain's grandfather, his father John and two sons all get it and John gets it.

Perhaps even more importantly, and I happen to agree wholeheartedly with John, the Democrats want to talk about timetables for withdrawal. John is interested a success of the surge and doing whatever he need to bring stability to that government so that it doesn't become a haven for terrorists.

He said very clearly, very distinctly, again, showing a lack of understanding from the Obama campaign, you have to see what the situation is before you make any determination with regard to any withdrawal schedule, and you do rely on your commanders in the field to help you with that assessment.

So, again, predictable, understandable, out of context, but we're going to see a lot more of this distortion in the days and months ahead in the campaign.

KELLY: Let me ask you. Two other subjects I want to get to, but before I go there, I want to ask you — does John McCain need to be more careful, sir, because, Mr. Secretary, that sound byte is - "No, that's not too important about when the troops can come home" is almost certain to come back to haunt him.

RIDGE: Well, you know, John speaks from the heart, and in the context of Iraq, a timetable is important to John, but more important to John — and he was right — was reducing or eliminating the number of casualties, and then the context of the entire paragraph that you read, he talks about an American presence in other theaters in the world where there are no casualties but we're still there. And so, what he is saying is that if we get to a situation where there are no casualties, we still may need a security presence in the region.

KELLY: Understood.

RIDGE: So, you really do need to take those sentences in context and not out of context as everybody else did.

KELLY: Understood. Let me ask you about this next subject — and you heard Bill talking about it with our last guest — and that is Senator Obama's comments on gas prices and oil prices saying he would have preferred a gradual adjustment, which had, you know, Republicans today outraged, suggesting — why didn't he say no adjustment is OK, no increase is all right?

Your response to that.

RIDGE: Well, I think that, again, it sets up a great contrast between Senator McCain and Senator Obama. Obama is talking about, well, if there had to be an increase, he'd rather have it gradual. And then John has said, I'd rather see a decrease and the only way, ultimately, over the next five or ten years, we get a decrease is if we drill more, we go nuclear, we'll look at alternative fuels, hybrid cars, and the like.

But, you know, by and large, most of the people on the other side of the aisle don't want to talk about additional drilling, they want to talk about additional refining, they want to talk about nuclear energy. So, they are spun up about emissions, they're spun up about the price of gasoline, but they're not spun up controlling both houses of Congress to do anything about it.

KELLY: Let me ask you about my last subject and that is the breaking news we began our show with. Jim Johnson, who is on the committee to select Barack Obama's vice presidential candidate or at least make recommendations, has now resigned saying he doesn't want to be a distraction from Obama's campaign. Is this a one-day kind of thing, or do you think there's more to this story?

RIDGE: It's probably a one or two-day kind of press report and press interest.

But you know, the genesis of this was candidate Obama, being somewhat self righteous and personally attacking someone in the mortgage business. And as a result of his personal attack, because politically it was an opportunistic time to do that, someone who volunteered to help him gets hit by friendly fire.

I mean, and so, in this day and age, 21st century politics, people are real quick to criticize, not appreciating or understanding that somebody like Jim Johnson — nobody has any reason to believe that he's not a man of integrity, but his integrity was already impugned by the presidential candidate because he was attacked. It was like guilt by association and the guilt.

KELLY: But let me ask you quickly, Obama says, "I can't vet the vetters." Isn't that a fair position?

RIDGE: It is, but the fact of the matter is that he went after someone without knowing the person he was criticizing because it was an opportunistic time to do so. And as a result of going after the head of Countrywide, someone who has a business relationship, potentially a friendship with him in the political climate that we're dealing — we're talking about is no longer going to be able to support Obama.

So, I think, the lesson here is perhaps Senator Obama should be a little less careful before he starts opening fire on those around him, because it seems to be a good idea do it at the time politically.

KELLY: And just to clarify, so our viewers know, Barack Obama had criticized Countrywide and Jim Johnson is said to have gotten a sweetheart deal from Countrywide. So, that was one of the potential conflicts he had.

RIDGE: That's right.

KELLY: Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and McCain supporter — thanks so much for being here. We appreciate.

RIDGE: It's nice joining you. Thank you very much.

KELLY: You bet.

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